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BART strike continues
October 20, 2013 8:58 PM   Subscribe

BART workers are continuing their strike into Monday, with no quick end to the strike in sight.

The current BART strike is the second in several months. The current strike is over work rules.

Statements from:
SEIU 1021
AFL-CIO
BART General Director

A federal mediator was unable to make any headway between BART workers and management.

Tragically, two BART workers were killed by a train over the weekend while inspecting a segment of train track. Federal authorities are investigating.

KPFA's Saturday Morning Talkies dedicated their show this weekend to the BART strike. In a program recorded for the previous BART strike, economist Richard Wolff tried to put the strike in the context of American labor history. Local journalist Davey D argues there's bigger things at stake in the strike. Allison Kilkenny sees a pattern in "workers [are] greedy" coverage of unions in the press.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles (84 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Listening to the KPFA show, pretty much everybody communicates the union's position better than the union rep. And not just by a little bit, the union rep talked and talked and talked and communicated very little of consequence or interest. The radio show gets some random person on the phone and she'll knock it out of the park! No wonder the union gets terrible coverage. Perhaps the union rep's talents lie in negotiation rather than public communication, but I wonder if anybody in the union is good at public communication. The union needs to get organized, get a cohesive, concise, and to the point message, and pound the hell out of it in the media. As it is, the union is just getting slaughtered and overrun.

Incidentally, the point of the strike, as far as I can tell, is that after a deal seemed to be resolved, BART suddenly insisted on huge work rules changes, and refused the union's offer for binding arbitration to quickly resolve the issue. This could be a great headline "BART management changes deal," but instead we get "BART unions strike" which just makes everyone hate the union.
posted by Llama-Lime at 9:34 PM on October 20, 2013 [19 favorites]


Llama-Lime: "Perhaps the union rep's talents lie in negotiation rather than public communication, but I wonder if anybody in the union is good at public communication."

Pretty much. If you make a reasonable public offer, you basically just put an upper limit on the bargaining agreement. In addition, mediation is put in place to theoretically reduce strikes, but I'm pretty sure the union's best negotiating position is during a strike, so they have to basically act recalcitrant until the rules say they can strike.
posted by pwnguin at 9:43 PM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Incidentally, the point of the strike, as far as I can tell, is that after a deal seemed to be resolved, BART suddenly insisted on huge work rules changes, and refused the union's offer for binding arbitration to quickly resolve the issue.

Well, according to the unions. Unfortunately, because of the media blackout during the negotiations, we need to rely on the finger-pointing statements of both sides blaming the other for sabotaging the talks. Here's the SFGate article announcing the strike.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:54 PM on October 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


All the coverage of this strike makes me so mad. Management hired a dude famous for breaking unions. They tried to renege on a previous deal where the workers forwent raises in a time of recession and lower ridership for increases later on. Every time they mention pensions, they leave out the part where BART opted out of Social Security, so that the pensions are all the workers get. Then there's all the work schadenfreude: why do they get benefits we doooon't. It's so damn crab-in-the-pot.

And I say all this as someone who lives a block from the BART and is somewhat inconvenienced. (I live in the city, so I can bike / über / walk.) But I am 100% on the union side here.
posted by dame at 11:16 PM on October 20, 2013 [16 favorites]


In other news, the NYCT transit strike began on my birthday, when I was living in NYC. Apparently I cause strikes.
posted by dame at 11:17 PM on October 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why can't management agree to mediation by an impartial third-party?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:19 PM on October 20, 2013


Blazecock Pileon: "Why can't management agree to mediation by an impartial third-party?"

They did. That's who George Cohen is: Director of Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. But mediation doesn't necessarily lead to reconciliation.
posted by pwnguin at 11:52 PM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The aforementioned Chron article points to hand delivery of pay stubs, the paper kind and a refusal to submit station reports electronically, as in not faxed, as actual sticking points. Call put cherry picking if you like but Jesus, it can't be 1987 forever.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:53 PM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Listening to the KPFA show, pretty much everybody communicates the union's position better than the union rep"

This does not surprise me. So many people are basically saying "a plague on both their houses."

The union *is* grossly over-compensated, period.. but the management of BART itself is basically unaccountable to anyone and a rat's nest of fiefdoms and cronyism.... and grossly overcompensated itself. It's the worst of both worlds.

What they *should* do, for starters, is cut the BART police entirely, and have BART be locally policed. They have a police force made up of 291 people costing $52 million a year (that's $180,000 average), their own SWAT team with automatic rifles, and an "independent police auditor" with a salary of $161,500... and yet it was SFPD who arrived first to deal with this loon... and don't even mention the shootings of innocent passengers.

Also, it might be nice to cut the top salaries considerably... maybe they could even afford to open up the bathrooms in the stations and fix the elevators and escalators. Hell, I would also look at various ways of renting out space on the platforms for concession stands and making some extra money to actually expand BART to all the places it *should* serve.

Really, the whole management structure should be taken over and started again, with costs in mind... not that anyone has the power to do it.
posted by markkraft at 12:11 AM on October 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


What they *should* do, for starters, is cut the BART police entirely, and have BART be locally policed. They have a police force made up of 291 people costing $52 million a year.

But then these costs are passed off to the local police who can't so easily raise revenues. Why fight the union at all? Just raise the price of the BART ticket to cover whatever a new agreement costs and be done with it.
posted by three blind mice at 12:16 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


pretty much everybody communicates the union's position better than the union rep.

Pretty much yeah. The unions have some not completely unreasonable concerns about "beneficial past practices," which management wants to eliminate guarantees for in the contract. How did this play out in the media: the unions are insisting on paper paycheck stubs, even though it's frickin' 2013 already and it costs BART a stupid amount of money to distribute paper paystubs to everyone while they're on the clock. Instead of focusing on legitimate safety or work-rule concerns, where the public is frankly a lot more inclined to back the workers than on wages and pensions, the unions have embraced the stupid the paper paystub narrative, actually arguing to the press that some of their members don't have internet access and pitching the right to keep everything as it was back in 1972 (when BART uniforms and hairdoos were this awesome) as some kind of fundamental human right.

Since everyone is already so fed up with the strike (as we just went through this two months ago), I just don't see people having any patience for these arguments, and the unions' horrible PR job isn't doing them any favors here. To put the impacts into perspective for those not in the area, downtown SF traffic was an utter mess on Friday with all the extra cars trying to get to/from the bridge, and the strikes have been particularly hard on small businesses. I chatted Friday with the owner of a small hair salon above Market St. who said he had around 50% of his bookings cancel, as his customers were opting to stay home instead. Making matters even worse, the unions spent most of last week waiting until 1:30am to announce whether they would strike the coming morning, leaving little time for faraway commuters without flexible jobs who would need to be awake a few short hours later to find an alternate route. And don't even get me started on what this does for people trying to get to/from the airport. In a town that is generally pretty darn good about supporting labor (and from my limited local labor history knowledge, San Francisco was a hell of a union town back in the day), the BART unions have managed to so squander almost all remaining goodwill through stupidity, despite some pretty obnoxious behavior by management. They're just that bad at PR.

Of course, two people are dead now, and while we're a long way away from knowing what happened there (the NTSB has sent out investigators, so at least we're likely to get a proper report in a year or two), the fact that trained, but non-union, personnel were operating the work train that struck the two on-track workers is surely something that is weighing on everyone's minds, whether fairly or not. A resolution sure doesn't seem anywhere nearby.
posted by zachlipton at 12:20 AM on October 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


The union *is* grossly over-compensated, period..

I've had enough of this race to the bottom-inspired outrage.

How do those salaries match up to the extremely high cost of living in the Bay Area? According to the charts in that article, BART's non-executive, non-police average salary isn't that much more than MUNI Metro and the city/county government of San Francisco.

BART is responsible for getting lots of much higher paid people to their jobs on-time day after day. Don't their employees deserve some compensation for their troubles?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:03 AM on October 21, 2013 [18 favorites]


They are striking to demand a 20 percent increase, though. (Over 3 years.)

I do usually side with labor, but in this case I'm not particularly sympathetic.
posted by miyabo at 5:14 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


A seven percent raise per year isn't outrageous.
posted by winna at 5:17 AM on October 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, according to the unions. Unfortunately, because of the media blackout during the negotiations, we need to rely on the finger-pointing statements of both sides blaming the other for sabotaging the talks. Here's the SFGate article announcing the strike.

My friend is one of the few full-time labor reporters in the country. He was righteously pissed about the coverage about what the strike was about and wrote this piece:

http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/15770/bart_strike_media_fail/

They are striking to demand a 20 percent increase, though. (Over 3 years.)

The wages part has been decided. Managment forced this srrike at the end, deliberately.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:26 AM on October 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


“Can you believe how much BART drivers are paid?” - a guy whose job is getting people to click ads
posted by acb at 5:30 AM on October 21, 2013 [24 favorites]


They did. That's who George Cohen is: Director of Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. But mediation doesn't necessarily lead to reconciliation.

The Union is asking for binding arbitration. They need to focus on that.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:36 AM on October 21, 2013


“Can you believe how much BART drivers are paid?” - a guy whose job is getting people to click ads

Incidentally, that describes my job, and I absolutely believe the people who get me to that job should be compensated at least as well as me. (I'm not a BART passenger, but I've been dependent on public transportation for most of my adult life.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:57 AM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


In other transit strike news, DDOT (Detroit bus system) drivers are either on strike, or the system is shut down due to fears of a strike. Either way, the buses aren't running today. Drivers are upset because of a lack of safety aboard buses: [The union president] said four drivers have been attacked in the past week. Two were stabbed, one was accosted by three passengers and another had urine thrown at her.

posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 6:07 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


A 7% raise for an individual is not unusual as they get more experience. A 7% raise for an entire group, regardless of experience, is highly unusual.
posted by miyabo at 6:07 AM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Me too, Metroid Baby. I still wish the unions weren't screwing with my commute to my ad-clicking-improvement job.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:44 AM on October 21, 2013


Ironmouth, thanks for that link. It's true, mainstream media coverage of the strike has been absolutely awful -- it's the lowest signal / noise ratio I've seen in a while, usually focusing on "How difficult is your commute / how outraged are the riders?"

One person pointed out that the unions may be bad at communicating their position. While this may be true, it's a secondary PR problem for the unions to the primary one of hostile media outlets flooding the Internet / airwaves with pure crap.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 7:48 AM on October 21, 2013


I still wish the unions weren't screwing with my commute to my ad-clicking-improvement job.

Do you still wish that management weren't screwing with your commute?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:55 AM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Them too. Basically I wish for an unscrewed commute.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:56 AM on October 21, 2013


Ban public transit! Everyone work from home!
posted by blue_beetle at 8:42 AM on October 21, 2013


"But then these costs are passed off to the local police who can't so easily raise revenues."

Not the exact costs. A lot of the work being done is either duplicative or unnecessary. You don't need 291 full-time people and $52 million to police 44 stations anyway. That's three times as many officers as Redwood City, and nearly half as many officers as the entirety of Oakland!

Meanwhile, Caltrain has dedicated transit officers for patrolling and securing their 32 stops, their trains, 77 mile line, and their parking areas as well. Four of them.

"Why fight the union at all? Just raise the price of the BART ticket to cover whatever a new agreement costs and be done with it."

Because BART tickets already cost too much?

The trip from Pittsburg in the East Bay to SFO costs $22.10, round-trip. If you need an unlimited monthly pass with BART, to make your commute more affordable... sorry, but there is no such thing. Basically, you can't justify using BART to commute to a job at SFO. But they do charge extra for that section of line, so let's say you're just going to Daly City. That'll just cost you $12.90 round trip, no local buses included. Let's say that you take a bus to BART in Pittsburg... you can theoretically cut down on your $65 a week commute with a $76 BART Plus pass, but it's only good for two weeks on your bus, and will only cover 5 1/2 trips on BART. It's a confusing mess... and you still might need a bus pass for the other part of your commute.

Compare that to, say, the New York Subway. The longest ride with a transfer in their system is about the same length, and will cost you $5, round-trip. An unlimited monthly pass in NYC, with the bus system included, will cost you $112.

A simple hop from downtown S.F. to downtown Oakland will cost you $6.30 round-trip, If you do that for a fairly average 22 day a month commute, that's nearly $140 a month, no buses or travel anywhere on the weekends included. And that's a *really* simple commute.

Also, comparing BART personnel's salary to those who work for MUNI in S.F. as being, well, kinda sorta comparable if more highly paid, overlooks the fact that BART workers generally live in the East Bay, which has substantially lower housing costs, and that MUNI staff aren't getting anywhere near those level of raises every year. It's a lot of money to give people who generally don't have a degree, especially in a situation where nobody is getting those kind of annual raises in this economy.

But really, in the greater scope of my frustrations with BART, union salaries aren't my biggest gripe... but they are too high.
posted by markkraft at 8:47 AM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


BART is responsible for getting lots of much higher paid people to their jobs on-time day after day.

I don't think this generalization is correct. A LOT of people that ride BART to work do not make 60-70k/year. And I'd also guess that most of their jobs are more difficult.

Have you seen what a station agent does? They sit in a glass box and answer a tourist's questions every 20 minutes. It's an unskilled job that you could hire a high schooler to do for $10/hr.
posted by gnutron at 8:48 AM on October 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's so obvious that management desperately wants the strike to happen, yet here we are even on Metafilter talking about people who make $60k/year in the bay area are overpaid leeches.

Have you seen what a station agent does?

What happens when someone has a medical emergency? What happens when you're underground in the dark after the next earthquake and need to be evacuated? I don't know about you, but every time my stupid Clipper card doesn't work the station agent fixes it and I'm on my way.

I guess someone, somewhere is hypothetically working harder and making less than a station agent, but this relentless race to the bottom crap that is being espoused from every media outlet is pretty ridiculous. I know if I stopped showing up for my job, the entire bay area wouldn't grind to a halt. What these people do is critical, and $60-70k/year is a living wage, not a decadent one.
posted by bradbane at 8:57 AM on October 21, 2013 [17 favorites]


They sit in a glass box and answer a tourist's questions every 20 minutes. It's an unskilled job that you could hire a high schooler to do for $10/hr.

The fact that you could pay someone $10/hour to do it doesn't mean you should.
posted by srboisvert at 9:00 AM on October 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's a lot of money to give people who generally don't have a degree

They should eat cake!

And its not giving them money, they're working, they're earning it.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:05 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


A seven percent raise per year isn't outrageous.

Uhh - that's a reasonable compensation increase for an individual on the development end (i.e. the beginning) of their career, in a good economy.

This raise is going to a large group of mostly established BART operators, ones whose productivity is not likely to increase, in a shitty economy.
posted by downing street memo at 9:09 AM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


What these people do is critical

The job function is critical; the people that currently do it aren't. They could be replaced pretty easily.
posted by jpe at 9:21 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The job function is critical; the people that currently do it aren't. They could be replaced pretty easily.

This is a real question because I don't know much about the job -- could they? It's possible they could be replaced pretty cheaply, but that really doesn't take quality of work into account. I could go into pretty much any enterprise and save a bunch of money short-term by firing everyone with any experience but that doesn't mean I'm actually replacing them.

Not sure what the case is for here but I think many of us underestimate the benefits of experience and knowledge in "unskilled" labor.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:25 AM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


We live in this weird culture where tons of people simultaneously think raising taxes on the 1% is the Worst Thing Ever because someday, they might get to be in that 1%, but raising wages for people who have actual jobs like them is also the Worst Thing Ever because that's a sign of being greedy or something.

I can't bear to watch the local news about the strike when they do Person on the Street interviews because so many of the interviewees are like well, I make $1 and hour, and everyone else should too and if they want more they're just greedy assholes!
posted by rtha at 9:26 AM on October 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Sorry to say this, Ironmouth, but your friend's article is poor; it relates a union's contentions with no response from the other side or analysis of the contentions from someone who knows what they're talking about. It's about an eyelash width from being a press release.
posted by ambient2 at 9:32 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


the people that currently do it aren't. They could be replaced pretty easily.

Considering that a management train operator killed two non-union maintenance guys less than 2 days into the strike suggests that maybe what they do really is dangerous and hard work, and that experienced people can't actually be replaced.

BART moves 400k+ people a day safely, that is quite an achievement.
posted by bradbane at 9:36 AM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


The trip from Pittsburg in the East Bay to SFO costs $22.10

Compare that to, say, the New York Subway.

I don't think that's an even remotely fair comparison. Is the route between SFO and Pittsburg as built up and dense as New York City? Are there as many people making local commutes and hopping between intermediate stations?

BART is more of a commuter rail system than a subway, and it should be compared as such. I can't figure out the distance between Pittsburg and SFO, but the Pittsburg-Millbrae about 56 miles and a round-trip is $14.30. I guess they tack on a bit more if you get off at the airport.

On the MBTA Commuter Rail, Attleboro to Boston (~31mi) round-trip is $18.50, and that doesn't cover parking ($4/day) or the subway fare once you get to the Red Line at South Station. Round trip Wickford Junction to Boston (63mi) is $22.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 9:38 AM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Exactly RonBut... It's a commuter rail that acts like a subway for 7ish stops.
posted by dame at 9:41 AM on October 21, 2013


maybe they could even afford to open up the bathrooms in the stations

This is a big issue for me. I take the BART into SF almost every weekend from Fremont. At $15.50 round trip it costs quite a bit more than driving and takes just as long or longer, but I can read on the train to pass the time. Can't drink any coffee that morning, though, or my bladder will explode before reaching my destination in the city. It's ridiculous that they can afford a massive police force with assault rifles and ammo (would that really have helped in Madrid, or any theoretical bombing?) but they can't afford some industrial grade toilet paper and a janitor?
posted by Thoughtcrime at 9:42 AM on October 21, 2013


Anyway, my on the ground commute update. In the city: Lotsa bikes, most people being nice if clueless. Cars, though, it seems the main function of BART is to keep angry assfaces off the streets and underground.

Half my office is WFH and my writer, who commutes furthest, spent nearly three hours on the bus. Three people are dead already (workers + bike accident in SOMA Friday). Sigh.
posted by dame at 9:52 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The job function is critical; the people that currently do it aren't. They could be replaced pretty easily.

If you don't mind the replacements killing people.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:54 AM on October 21, 2013


The job function is critical; the people that currently do it aren't. They could be replaced pretty easily.

There's plenty more BART employees than the ones you can see by riding BART. Not everyone is a station agent. Check out some of the data here.

And I feel dirty for linking to this, but some have gone a step further than you and proposed replacing the workers with robots (although, a robot that diagnoses problems with and fixes train cars would seem to be pretty expensive / advanced / unreasonable).
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 10:01 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Three people are dead already (workers + bike accident in SOMA Friday). Sigh.

I really hate that this happens, but a bike accident in SOMA has nowt to do with the strike. These sorts of accidents are all too common.

I'm fortunate that my commute patterns make the strike an inconvenience (can walk/bike to work in Berkeley, can't take BART to band practice in El Cerrito), and I feel for my friends who are stuck. However, the us/them whinging is tired and stale. We've come a long way as a nation to take the work of the labour movement for granted so much, that when strikes happen we moan about how hard our lot in life is, and how they should be happy with whatever we get.

That all said, BART has real structural issues with how it's being managed and operated. It goes across representation and not. This visualization of BART salaries is pretty striking. And what about asking about efficiency and focusing on level of service? Robots might not be the answer. (Note - I sort of work with the VUD Lab.)
posted by kendrak at 10:03 AM on October 21, 2013


I really hate that this happens, but a bike accident in SOMA has nowt to do with the strike.

I ride all over SOMA every day, and I am comfortable, based on what I've seen, giving the strike at least half the credit. It can be a dangerous ride, and if people have no idea what they are doing, it makes it a lot worse. The strike has a lot of cars & cyclists on that route that fit the description perfectly. Even this morning the cars are Folsom were pulling stupid shit that gives me the impression they don't drive there every day.

But I accept there are other interpretations.
posted by dame at 10:11 AM on October 21, 2013


They sit in a glass box and answer a tourist's questions every 20 minutes. It's an unskilled job that you could hire a high schooler to do for $10/hr.

I'm not sure, but I suspect that person in the glass box is probably trained to do a whole bunch of very important but entirely unnoticed tasks like summon first responders, organize evacuations of the station, and lots of other crisis-related things that a high-schooler making $10/hr probably shouldn't be trusted with.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:13 AM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The trip from Pittsburg in the East Bay to SFO costs $22.10, round-trip. If you need an unlimited monthly pass with BART, to make your commute more affordable... sorry, but there is no such thing. Basically, you can't justify using BART to commute to a job at SFO. But they do charge extra for that section of line, so let's say you're just going to Daly City. That'll just cost you $12.90 round trip, no local buses included. Let's say that you take a bus to BART in Pittsburg... you can theoretically cut down on your $65 a week commute with a $76 BART Plus pass, but it's only good for two weeks on your bus, and will only cover 5 1/2 trips on BART. It's a confusing mess... and you still might need a bus pass for the other part of your commute.

You do realize you are talking about a 50 mile trip here, right? The AAA has an average 60.8 cents per mile driving cost, that's $29.24 one way before you include the $6 toll on the bridge. (If you look at operating costs alone, i.e. you were given both your car and insurance for free, that's 20.4 cents per mile, or $15.82 for the commute, including the toll.)
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:18 AM on October 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


We live in this weird culture where tons of people simultaneously think raising taxes on the 1% is the Worst Thing Ever because someday, they might get to be in that 1%, but raising wages for people who have actual jobs like them is also the Worst Thing Ever because that's a sign of being greedy or something.

It's not that the public doesn't support increasing wages for transit workers (I haven't heard a single person complain about the so-far agreed upon 12% raise over four years), it's that what the union is asking for is so out of step with what most people who ride their trains are experiencing. Although it's argued above that BART workers make far less than the passengers they are transporting to their fancy jobs in SF, you have to realize that large numbers of these commuters would live in SF if they could afford to. It's been a recent trend for the working class to exodus from the city to the east bay, where housing is just a teensy bit more affordable, and many of these people have a hard time sympathizing with what seem like unreasonable demands.

I might be a little cranky after spending more than 10 hours commuting to and from the city over the last two and a half days, and two of those days were over the weekend. If the BART unions want my sympathy, they're going to have to earn it, and so far they are doing just about the worst job imaginable.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 10:22 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although it's argued above that BART workers make far less than the passengers they are transporting to their fancy jobs in SF, you have to realize that large numbers of these commuters would live in SF if they could afford to.

Why are real estate costs in SF the fault of BART employees?
posted by Ironmouth at 10:36 AM on October 21, 2013


That visualization of BART salaries project is pretty amazing kendrak.

One that particularly stood out to me is Carl Oliver, who earns a base pay of 83k as a Senior Operations Foreworker, but on top of that earns 123k in overtime pay, so over 200k in total. This isn't pointed out to say Carl is doing a bad job, it seems he's working his arse off-- but it speaks to the quality of the management above him.

Look at the OT rates and it's crazy-- if a solid number of train operators are earning 80%+ of their pay from overtime, that's a pretty major indicator you need to hire more train operators and cut OT. So, there you got BART, I've just saved you a few million dollars, increased your productivity, while also reducing the unemployment rate in the SF area.
posted by Static Vagabond at 10:46 AM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


A lot of the debate regarding the BART strike that I've been exposed to, even amongst people I would consider progressive and supportive of unions, comes down to differing opinions of where to draw the line between reasonable and unreasonable demand.

If the BART employees were each asking for 1million bucks a month and full veto power on any technical improvements, I think most people would agree that was unreasonable. What the actual number and set of rules is the big point of contention.

Unlike a union that is bargaining with a for-profit company, it is hard to find a reasonable cap on how much employees should be paid. With a private company, the number is somewhere around "enough that the company itself is still viable so everyone still has a job". With BART, the sky is the limit because taxes can simply be raised to meet those demands.

What I don't like seeing is all these people who are supporting the union just because they are a union, independent of whether or not the demands are reasonable.

I'd like to see something that helps me reason about what fair compensation is for BART employees. What is a fair set of rules? To what extent be allowed to demand that no technical improvements happen to the system because it might reduce jobs?

I'm not capable of answering these questions, but would like to see someone discuss how to start, instead of just blinding supporting the union or the management.
posted by mulligan at 10:48 AM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]




it's that what the union is asking for is so out of step with what most people who ride their trains are experiencing.

From what I've seen (on the news, on facebook), people are blaming BART workers for having the gall to ask for more rather than giving their own employers shit for underpaying them. It's crabs in a bucket.
posted by rtha at 10:51 AM on October 21, 2013


Look at the OT rates and it's crazy-- if a solid number of train operators are earning 80%+ of their pay from overtime, that's a pretty major indicator you need to hire more train operators and cut OT. So, there you got BART, I've just saved you a few million dollars, increased your productivity, while also reducing the unemployment rate in the SF area.

Its cheaper to pay 80% of an employee's pay in OT than it is to hire another employee and pay his or her health benefits and the health benefits of the employee's family.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:55 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why are real estate costs in SF the fault of BART employees?

I'm tempted to answer your disingenuous question with another, but I'm just going to let it slide. Just to clarify, and to avoid having words put in my mouth, my point was that there are many people out there who have to commute into the city every day and who are struggling in financial ways much more severe than BART employees are. You might argue that this should induce solidarity between groups of workers not being compensated fairly, but that's less likely to happen when to satisfy the demands of one group, you have to raise taxes and ticket prices on the other. Crabs in a bucket to be sure, but good luck to crab A (who isn't even on the ground floor of the bucket) when he starts pinching crabs B and C.

Its cheaper to pay 80% of an employee's pay in OT than it is to hire another employee and pay his or her health benefits and the health benefits of the employee's family.

So many problems would be solved with single-payer healthcare.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 10:58 AM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm tempted to answer your disingenuous question with another, but I'm just going to let it slide. Just to clarify, and to avoid having words put in my mouth, my point was that there are many people out there who have to commute into the city every day and who are struggling in financial ways much more severe than BART employees are.

You made a statement that seemed to indicate that what the BART employees are making should somehow be related to the costs much richer people pay to live in San Francisco. What the BART employees should get paid is what they can get in negotiations, not what you or any other person pays because you choose to work in a place far from your home because it is cheaper for you.

Let me put it another way, why did you introduce the real estate costs of persons riding the train into the calculations of how much the BART workers should make in some sort of ideal world?
posted by Ironmouth at 11:05 AM on October 21, 2013


Asking because I enjoy playing the role of devil's advocate...

Why is it acceptable for businesses (like the Oil companies) to increase prices to the absolute max of what the "market" can handle... but when it's a group of workers doing the exact same thing (with their wages) it's all of a sudden an issue?

Edit: clarification
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:11 AM on October 21, 2013


Look at the OT rates and it's crazy-- if a solid number of train operators are earning 80%+ of their pay from overtime, that's a pretty major indicator you need to hire more train operators and cut OT.

They've been under hiring and pay freezes for years, which is why there is so much OT being collected and also why they are striking again - they were promised more this time around after sacrificing last time.
posted by bradbane at 11:11 AM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


New question: Am I the only person uncomfortable with the fact that the salary visualization, which is otherwise awesome, includes people's names? I know they are public employees, and I am somewhat okay with the information being out there if someone *wants* to research it, but it seems kinda rude to make it so very apparent. It's not important to the data and I certainly don't want the world to know how much I make. Is there a reason it can't just be by position but otherwise anonymized?
posted by dame at 11:12 AM on October 21, 2013


Incidentally, the point of the strike, as far as I can tell, is that after a deal seemed to be resolved, BART suddenly insisted on huge work rules changes, and refused the union's offer for binding arbitration to quickly resolve the issue. This could be a great headline "BART management changes deal," but instead we get "BART unions strike" which just makes everyone hate the union.

This is why I tend to support the Union. If there is agreement on everything else, why can't BART accept neutral arbitration of work rule changes? One of the BART people was saying a few weeks ago that there is a rule that drivers can only drive five hours a day, and end up taking the other three hours off, and thus only work twenty-five hours a week even though they are paid full time. I wonder if rules like this are the major point of disagreement. I also think the taxpayers should have a right to know the details of the negotiations. It is weird that no one can quite figure out why there is a strike as both sides seem to agree on everything except "work rules."
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:27 AM on October 21, 2013


This is why I tend to support the Union. If there is agreement on everything else, why can't BART accept neutral arbitration of work rule changes? One of the BART people was saying a few weeks ago that there is a rule that drivers can only drive five hours a day, and end up taking the other three hours off, and thus only work twenty-five hours a week even though they are paid full time. I wonder if rules like this are the major point of disagreement. I also think the taxpayers should have a right to know the details of the negotiations. It is weird that no one can quite figure out why there is a strike as both sides seem to agree on everything except "work rules."

Note that most "time of driving" rules are imposed by the US Department of Transportation. I would guess that paperwork and administrative tasks take up that time, as well as driver inspections of the train they are about to take out, etc.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:34 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Let me put it another way, why did you introduce the real estate costs of persons riding the train into the calculations of how much the BART workers should make in some sort of ideal world?

I was responding specifically to the following post:

BART is responsible for getting lots of much higher paid people to their jobs on-time day after day. Don't their employees deserve some compensation for their troubles?

which seemed to suggest that BART salaries should be tied to the salaries of their passengers. My intention was to point out that the assumption made therein ("passengers have higher salaries than BART employees") might be false, I only introduced real estate prices to explain why that might be so.

What the BART employees should get paid is what they can get in negotiations, not what you or any other person pays because you choose to work in a place far from your home because it is cheaper for you.

I would agree with you if this were a dispute in the private sector, but in some sense the employer here is us, the public. When the negotiation is between one group of BART employees and another group of BART employees, it sounds a little bit like BART deciding how much to pay itself. Basically, what mulligan said.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 12:01 PM on October 21, 2013


Unlike a union that is bargaining with a for-profit company, it is hard to find a reasonable cap on how much employees should be paid. With a private company, the number is somewhere around "enough that the company itself is still viable so everyone still has a job". With BART, the sky is the limit because taxes can simply be raised to meet those demands.

This seems like an issue limited not just to BART but with most public-sector unions. In the private sector it seems pretty reasonable to just let labor and management divide up profits with the threat of strikes on one side and company closure on the other; the unions can only demand what the market will bear, or else the company will go out of business as their cost structure blows up. So there is sort of a mutual interest that can form the basis for a reasonable bargaining process.

I don't see any similar interest in public sector negotiations. There's no reason for a union to be reasonable if the funding comes from an inelastic revenue source. It's not like the "company" can go bankrupt, or get overrun by competition with better cost structures. The rational action is to squeeze the public purse as hard as possible, right up to the point where public support erodes so completely that the unions are actually looking at getting busted legislatively. There's no other hard limit.

The solution, which is the case with Federal employee unions as far as I know, is to prohibit striking and settle all labor disputes via binding arbitration without recourse by either side. It seems a reasonable tradeoff: since the "company" isn't subject to market forces, something else has to keep negotiations at least grounded in reality and protect the public interest. It's not a perfect solution, insofar as it's still subject to bias and stacking of the arbitration panels, but it's better than pretending that a process that works in the open market is going to work well in one not subject to competition.

So the question really isn't "why are they on strike," it's "why aren't they more often?" We wouldn't expect a corporation to do anything aside from the profit-maximizing behavior, right up to the very limits* of what's allowed by law; we should expect no more and no less from unions.

What's surprising though in this particular case, is that given how the limits of their negotiating position is defined by the voting public's attitude (i.e. their tendency to vote for union-busting candidates in the future), the BART unions seem to be so bad at articulating their position.

* Actually, beyond the limits, depending on the outcome of a calculation that takes into account the chances of getting caught, the downside if caught, and the upside if the scheme is gotten away with. Sociopaths have nothing on corporations.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:04 PM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Its cheaper to pay 80% of an employee's pay in OT than it is to hire another employee and pay his or her health benefits and the health benefits of the employee's family.

No it's not. Overtime is paid out at time and a half until the first 50% and double time for the last 30%. You may be "paying 20% less" but you are only getting about 50% less work. This is a pretty horrible value proposition.
posted by bitdamaged at 12:16 PM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


If there is agreement on everything else, why can't BART accept neutral arbitration of work rule changes?

Management's position (as I understand it) is that they are not entirely unwilling for the entire contract to go to binding arbitration, but that the union doesn't get to pick and choose. In other words, they've been negotiating a contract for approximately forever now, with some give and take on both sides, and you don't get to just submit your last few demands to arbitration without opening up the rest of the agreement. Of course, the unions allege that BART shoved some of the work rules changes on them at the last minute, so nobody's hands are that clean here.

But that aside, it doesn't seem fair for the union to bargain with the district, get to a place they are happy with on wages, benefits, pensions, etc..., and then demand arbitration on the work rules without being willing to compromise on the economic terms. Because, in the end, work rules are still about money. If the union demanded, let's be silly here and say, a hot tub in every station agents' booth, and we choose to ignore practicalities like what the official BART swimsuit uniform will look like, management might reasonably counter with substantially reduced salaries and benefits to pay for the tubs and maintenance. More realistically, the same could apply to requests for certain scheduling practices, worker minimums, paper paystubs, etc...

As a semi-related aside, I read now that St. Anthony's Dining Room, a Tenderloin soup kitchen, is looking for volunteers this week because some scheduled school groups cancelled due to lack of transportation. If anybody has the flexibility to volunteer during the week....
posted by zachlipton at 12:19 PM on October 21, 2013


Is there a tax lever that gets cranked every time a public employee gets a raise? I'm unfamiliar with the specifics so please correct me if I'm wrong, but given how California historically treats tax raises as treasonous, the "public unions are Different" narrative feels off. The nation of powerful public employees squeezing us dry sounds as plausible as welfare Cadillacs.

How many public employees are even left these days? I don't see how they'll form a parasitic cabal given that public services are already being starved in favor of privatization. Private sector unions also happen to be far scarcer than public unions, which makes present attacks on the latter pretty fishy. Those who claim to support private unions yet strategically behave identically to those who oppose all unions should beware which bed they're laying in.

The systemic assault on worker's rights began in the eighties and as far as I'm concerned we're in the "licking the plate clean" stage.
posted by gorbweaver at 12:47 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The cyclist killed on Friday has been identified as a 78-year-old man who was collecting cans, so I don't think we can link that accident to the strike in any way, tragic though it is.
posted by vickyverky at 12:57 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


How do those salaries match up to the extremely high cost of living in the Bay Area?

Great question! Check out this nifty little visualization (and bit wonky) I came across on /r/Oakland.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:20 PM on October 21, 2013


MiltonRandKalman: "Great question! Check out this nifty little visualization (and bit wonky) I came across on /r/Oakland"

I find it at least a little bit amusing that it budgets 600 dollars a month for transportation.
posted by pwnguin at 1:28 PM on October 21, 2013


Thanks for the update, vickyverky.
posted by dame at 1:40 PM on October 21, 2013


Re: those transportation expenses--most people who take BART during their workday commute also have a car for non-rush-hour/weekend transportation. The East Bay is very spread out, the AC Transit bus system is a bit of a joke[1], and taking the bus to do things like daily errands can turn a simple 15 minute trip to CVS into an hours-long debacle.

[1] My partner's commute from our house in Oakland to his job in Berkeley, less than ten miles each way, took a full hour on two buses during rush hour and 50% longer than that if he worked past rush hour.
posted by jesourie at 1:47 PM on October 21, 2013


a rat's nest of fiefdoms and cronyism

Hmmm. Where else have I seen that lately?
posted by Twang at 3:12 PM on October 21, 2013


I'm on the east coast and work from home most of the time, so I have no beef in this fight.. but I do think the extremes are telling. In the visualization of BART salaries that kendrak posted, I looked for the highest and lowest total compensation for the title "Train Operator" and I got the following:

Highest TCOE (total cost of employment): $183k
Lowest TCOE: $29k

Now, I took the time to find the same two guy's base pay:

Highest BP (base pay): $64k
Lowest BP: $16k

Now, I don't know what this says overall but one thing that does strike me as odd is that in most companies (to my knowledge) the range of pay for a specific job title varies with seniority, experience, etc, but to vary by FOUR TIMES? That's pretty huge, and, I think, indicative of union/gov'ment work that often results in a lot of cronyism and seniority siphoning off the system.

As a fresh college grad working for a small company in the same urban area as all the other workers, I made a measly $35k as a programmer, but the highest paid made $75k.. about double. There is no way the company could afford paying any programmer $140k (4 times my salary).

What's worse is that the low guy on the totem pole, at $16k, only made a total of $29k with benefits, overtime, etc, while the highest on the totem made $183k.. so, again, the seniority is worth ~37% more in benefits above base pay ($29k*4=$116k, which is ~63% of $183k).

I'm rambling, but I think there are *major* issues with your union if the same exact job title can have a pay range that is that huge, no matter how much seniority/experience is worth.
posted by mbatch at 3:23 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


mbatch: Couldn't that simply represent an employee who only worked a few months out of the year, for whatever reason (new hire, retired, quit, terminated, etc...) or otherwise only worked a limited number of hours? Or perhaps they changed jobs mid-year (even getting promoted to a supervisory position) and the report is just showing what they earned in the old job? I'm pretty sure the range on the wage scale isn't nearly that huge, though you can dive into the old ATU Local 1555 contract (warning: 486 page PDF!) for the details.

Well ok; I'll bite... Looking at page 208 of the PDF, it looks like the base pay differential between hire rates and top rates (with seniority) is around $5/hour or less, which at 2,087 working hours a year (which may not really reflect BART's scheduling reality, but I'm sure as hell not reading the 485 other pages of the contract to figure it out), means annual base pay of $53k for a new hire (TW I/II classifications) and 63k for one with seniority, a much more reasonable range. Now someone might get promoted and become a "foreworker" at some point, with resulting higher wages, but nobody working something resembling a full schedule as a train operator at BART is making $16k or anywhere close to it in base pay.
posted by zachlipton at 3:53 PM on October 21, 2013


Base pay really ceases to have any relevance in a system that relies on OT as much as BART (as well as, to be fair, multiple transit systems in the US). If OT is just another compensation source - not extra money doled out under limited circumstances - then it seems entirely fair to count OT when thinking about pay variance among staff.
posted by downing street memo at 4:08 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


zachlipton, I hadn't considered that at all, which is obviously a very fair point. Disregard my ramblings.
posted by mbatch at 4:15 PM on October 21, 2013


The "flexibility to schedule" thing gave me pause - it seems like it could be a lot less benign than it sounds. Wal-Mart and its ilk, for instance, have been doing a very extreme version of this since 2007: employees can be sent home during a lull (and not paid for that time) or could have to be "on call" during their time off, which is potentially a big problem for people with families, etc. So depending on how exactly this is going to be implemented, this could be a major issue.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:00 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's important to understand that the foreworker earning 123k of OT on top of an 83k salary does not have to be working 1,500 to 1,800 hours of OT per year of top of a 2,000 hour base to do that.

In fact, with existing contract work rules, it's possible to game things so that you're be scheduled for 5 days per week, call out for two, cover for a co-worker doing the same another two, and automatically earn OT for 40% of your week. Every week. An 83k salary can thus add 20.75k of OT, while never working more than 40 hours. That's the kind of thing the strike is about. Those are the sort of work rules BART wants to change.

Everyone had already agreed to a 20% pay increase over three years *before* they went on strike. This is *clearly* about a different class of money entirely, which is not spread evenly among the workforce, and not based on services rendered.

In the hands of folks like WalMart "flexibility to schedule" is a tool to keep people tired and desperate. The BART contract is an example of the other extreme... it's a means to print money on demand for no value to the system. Somewhere in the middle seems far more sane.
posted by zeypher at 7:08 PM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


A 7% raise for an entire group, regardless of experience, is highly unusual.

7% might not even cover inflation if the group hasn't had a raise in years. Didn't they accept some kind of we-were-promised-it-was-temporary pay freeze 6 years ago?

Without the context, the percentage is meaningless.
posted by anonymisc at 8:54 PM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


See, if Republicans were wise they'd stop with their idiotic focus on social issues and Obamacare and focus their outrage on issues where they'd have a point, like public sector union extortion.
posted by shivohum at 9:29 PM on October 21, 2013


All the local news livestreams are now pointed at a bunch of microphones in Oakland under the presumption that soon someone will appear and announce that the strike has ended.
posted by gubenuj at 9:31 PM on October 21, 2013


Yeah, the strike is ending.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:07 PM on October 21, 2013


Trains will run in time for the afternoon commute tomorrow.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:31 PM on October 21, 2013


I'm on a train right now. Service is ramping up so the going seems a little slow but it's been running since just before 6am.
posted by TwoWordReview at 7:16 AM on October 22, 2013


In fact, with existing contract work rules, it's possible to game things so that you're be scheduled for 5 days per week, call out for two, cover for a co-worker doing the same another two, and automatically earn OT for 40% of your week. Every week. An 83k salary can thus add 20.75k of OT, while never working more than 40 hours.

Just curious, but do you have a citation that this is actually happening or an estimate for how big a problem this is in reality? It would seem like you couldn't possibly miss two days a week, every week, indefinitely. I certainly don't know anyone who gets 104 days of medical/emergency/other leave per year, especially on non-contiguous days.

A lot has been made in the press of BART absentee rates (something like 12% vs Muni's ~8%). I've also read that these absentee rates include military service (!) and people out on workman's comp, etc., though I have no sense for how much that affects these calculations. If a small number of people are absent from work for a long period of time that could indeed affect the average very strongly. But again, I don't have access to any of that more detailed information.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:08 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


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